History of Port Wine
To answer “What is Port Wine”, let’s start with the history of Port Wine. Back in the 17th century when France was at war it decided to deprive the British and Dutch from importing their wine. When this happened the British and Dutch were forced to venture to Portugal’s Douro River Valley for wine.
The Portuguese were happy to export their wine back to England. Unfortunately, the journey across the seas took a very long and the wine would spoil before it reached its destinations. To stabilize and preserve the wine for the journey the Portuguese began adding brandy to it.
This addition of brandy allowed the wine to stabilize by killing the yeast and stopping the fermentation process. This also allowed for a wine that is higher in alcohol (about 20%) than traditional wines.
So, That Brings Us to What Is Port Wine?
The stopping of the fermentation process made the wine sweeter leaving residual sugars in the wine. And then the added Brandy made it sweeter still.
So to answer what is port wine, it is a wine made in the Duoro region of Portugal that has brandy added to it, which stops the fermentation. It is a sweet red wine that comes in a dry, semi-dry and white variety. Most Port is served after dinner as a dessert wine.
Port wine that we drink today comes from grapes grown in the Alto Douro vineyards. The Douro Valley region totals 617,000 acres of which 96,000 acres are used for the vineyards. The city at the head of the Duoro River where Port Wine is put on ships is Porto – thus the name Port Wine. (It’s also known as Vinho do Porto, Oporto, and Porto).
What Kinds Of Port Wines Are There?
There are several varieties of ports: white port wine, ruby and tawny. From these there are over a hundred varieties of grapes which constitute that what is port wine. Five grapes dominate the port wine section:
Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional.
Out of these five grapes Touriga Francesa is the one grape that is used in most ports. White Port Wine comes from six varieties of grapes; Esgana-Cao, Folgasao, Malvasia, Rabigato, Verdelho and Viosinho.
Like Red Wine, the grapes used to make Port Wine are high in resveratrol, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Resveratrol has recently been found to extend life in lab trials. Drinking Port Wine for health is less optimal than red wine because it’s both higher in sugar calories and alcohol content.
While we recommend a good after-dinner Port Wine to close-out the evening, we also recommend a nutritional supplement that gives you all the healthy benefits of wine without the alcohol.
White Port Wine
White Port Wines are lighter tasting than the other ports. The white port wines are made from a blend of white grapes and have a small amount of juice from the red grapes added to them.
The port spends two to three years in casks and is ready to drink when it is bottled. They also come into two varieties, dry and sweet. These ports do not age well due to oxidation, especially the dryer versions.
The dry type is relatively new in the overall history of Port and is increasingly popular in Portugal before dinner as an aperitif. Lagrima is the sweet type and is more traditional and a favorite in France and Sweden.
Ruby Port Wines
Ruby Ports are generally the youngest of the port wines. It is the Ruby color of the wine that gave this variety its name. It usually spends a minimum of two years in a large vat which minimizes the oxidation before it is bottled.
The port is ready to drink once it is bottled and will not change much with age. They are very stable due to the addition of Brandy and last reasonably well after opening.
Crusted port is a type of Ruby port that is aged for three years and gets its name from the sediment that appears in the bottle as the wine ages, since the wine is not filtered. This so called “Crust” is tiny pieces of grape skin, seeds and stems that settle in the bottle.
You have to strain the port before you drink it. There is also a Ruby Port Wine Vintage that is aged four to six years in a cask before bottled.
Tawny Port Wine
Tawny Port is a blend from several varieties of grapes and is aged from two to seven years in casks. The casks that they are aged in allow more oxidation compared to a Ruby Port and therefore the color of the Tawny Port is a deep mahogany color.
Tawny ports are dried longer than Rubies and have a nuttier taste which is in part due to the longer aging process. Tawny Ports, like Rubies, do not improve with added bottle age and are very stable once opened.
There are several varieties of Tawny Ports. Aged Tawny port can have an age of 10, 20, 30 or more years. The age of the port is always on the label and describes the age of the wines in the port not the time that the port itself was aged in the cask.
The older the Tawny, the more pale the color, the more elegant the bouquet, the more delicate the flavor, the drier the style and the more expensive the bottle. Older Tawnies, because of their increased delicacy, are slightly less stable after opening.
Another Tawny port is a Colheita. It is made with grapes from a single harvest. It is aged at least seven years in casks or in wood but is usually aged longer. There are some Colheitas that date back to the past two centuries. The label will indicate the year of the harvest.
Port Wine Vintage and Single-Quinta Ports
What is Port Wine Vintage? Port Wine Vintage comes from a single harvest and is bottled after two years in wood. The wine then spends many years aging in the bottle. The label will show the year of the Vintage and the year the wine was bottled.
Late-Bottled Port Wine Vintage(LBV) is made from grapes grown in a single year.The port is aged four to six years in wood before bottling. The label will indicate the Vintage and bottling date.
The LBV port is ready to drink earlier than Port Wine Vintage. LBV labeled “Traditional” may have some sediment in it much like the Crusted Port. For this reason you will need to strain the “Traditional” LBV port before you drink it.
Single-Quinta ports are made with wine from one vineyard. After aging two years in wood they are bottled and spend from 5 to 50 years maturing. The label will indicate the Vintage year and bottling date.
Author: Dan R Morris